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Justices to hear arguments in reversed TPR, juror misconduct cases

May 28, 2019

The Indiana Supreme Court justices granted transfer to two cases last week while denying 39 others. Of the pair it selected for review, the justices will hear arguments in a reversed termination of parental rights case and in a case alleging juror bias.

In Termination: M.H., et al. v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 19S-JT-323, a split Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s termination of M.H. and R.H.’s parental rights to their seven children.

In that decision, the COA found the trial court’s requirement that M.H. admit to sexually abusing his stepdaughter R.W. as part of sex offender treatment violated his Fifth Amendment rights. The appellate court remanded for reinstatement of the children in need of services cases, a re-examination of the requirements for reunification and a revised dispositional order.

Judge Margret Robb dissented from the COA majority in a separate opinion.

Justices will also hear arguments in Tracie Easler v. State of Indiana, 19S-CR-324. In that case, the COA found Tracie Easler, who stood trial for driving while intoxicated, failed to present specific, substantial evidence establishing that one of the jurors in her trial was biased. The juror had informed the court that one of her family members had been killed in a drunk driving accident before she was born.  

On appeal, Easler argued the juror engaged in juror misconduct by failing to provide full and truthful answers on her questionnaire, and that Easler was entitled to a hearing to further explore potential bias pursuant to Stevens v. State, 357 N.E.2d 245 (Ind. 1976), and Barnes v. State, 330 N.E.2d 743 (Ind. 1975).

However, the appellate court concluded Easler’s jury was fair and impartial and that her citations were misplaced.

The high court denied 39 other cases brought before its bench on petition to transfer last week, including a mother’s argument of negligence against a gun owner whose stolen handgun caused the death of her son.

In Shelley Nicholson v. Christopher S. Lee, 18A-CT-1949, the COA ruled in favor of Christopher Lee, who had left his loaded handgun on the seat of his truck, unlocked and unattended. Nicholson’s son Matthew Kendall was later shot and killed when a friend was showing Kendall the gun he had stolen, and the gun discharged in the process. 

The COA determined Indiana Code section 34-30-20-1 immunized Lee from any liability for the acts of the Kendall’s friend and from Lee’s own failure to properly store the gun. All justices voted to deny transfer except Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who voted to grant transfer.

A full list of transfers for the week ending May 24 can be found here.

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